Tournament ambassador Avi Nimni is "counting the days" until next summer's UEFA European Under-21 Championship begins in Israel.
After the draw for the 5–18 June finals took place in Tel Aviv yesterday – pitting the hosts against England, Norway and Italy in Group A – the former Israeli international outlined his excitement that the eight-team competition is coming to the area.
"The biggest achievement so far is the fact that the tournament is here in Israel," said Nimni, capped 80 times by his country between 1992 and 2006. "Everything else is a bonus and after the draw nothing has changed – Italy, Norway and England are still better teams than us and it will be fantastic to see our players up against them."
Avraham Luzon, president of the Israel Football Association (IFA), echoed Nimni's thoughts, adding that local supporters being able to watch the continent's best young players at close quarters is a "dream". "I can guarantee that all of us here in Israel are united in one mission: the success of the championship," he said in a speech during the draw ceremony.
"The UEFA European Under-21 Championship is an opportunity for all of us to get to know the stars of today – and the superstars of tomorrow. For all Israeli football fans it is a dream coming true, to be able to enjoy an international event, here in our country, in new and modern stadiums at affordable prices."
Nimni's fellow ambassador Eli Ohana, part of the KV Mechlen side that defeated AFC Ajax 1-0 to lift the 1988 European Cup Winners' Cup, thinks the draw has afforded Guy Luzon's team a credible chance of reaching the last four in what will be only Israel's second finals participation. "It's still hard, but we saw it could have been harder," he said.
"When I look at Group B, with Spain, Germany, Russia and the Netherlands, I feel Group A might be better for Israel. Things are still far from easy but, in a good week with the fans [behind us], we might be able to surprise."
Ohana believes the Israeli experience will be unique and reckons the atmosphere around the tournament is already beginning to build. "Each and every fan that comes to the games will enjoy two new stadiums [in Netanya and Petah Tivka], happy football and a wonderful country from north to south and east to west.
"From now on, after the draw, people will start to sense things are building up and the hype around the tournament will be bigger."
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